Electrolytes are better for muscle cramps than water, study finds

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Experts say water can increase the likelihood of muscle cramps

A new study conducted by researchers from Edith Cowan University explored the best options for consumers who are prone to experiencing muscle cramps after exercising. 

Their findings revealed that opting for drinks full of electrolytes may be better than plain water when it comes to preventing muscle cramps. The study showed that electrolytes served as a protective barrier against muscle cramps after exercising, while drinking water was found to make muscle cramps more likely. 

“Many people think dehydration causes muscle cramps and will drink pure water while exercising to prevent cramping,” said researcher Ken Nosaka. “We found that people who solely drink plain water before and after exercise could, in fact, be making them more prone to cramps. This is likely because pure water dilutes the electrolyte concentration in our bodies and doesn’t replace what is lost during sweating.”

Choosing the right beverage 

To determine which drink was best at preventing muscle cramps, the researchers had 10 men participate in an exercise-based study. In one trial, the men followed up a 60-minute workout with plain drinking water; in another trial, they drank an electrolyte-based drink after the same workout. 

To see how muscle cramps were affected by the different beverages, the researchers used electrical stimulation to produce a muscle cramp in the participants’ legs. They learned that the group that followed up a workout with plain water was more likely to experience muscle cramps than the group that drank the electrolyte solution. The muscle cramp test showed that the electrolyte group required much more stimulation to produce a muscle cramp than the group that drank the water. 

“This indicates that muscles become more prone to cramp by drinking plain water, but more immune to muscle cramp by drinking the electrolyte water,” Nosaka said. 

Additional benefits of electrolytes

While this study was focused on the benefits of electrolytes associated with exercise-based muscle cramps, the researchers explained that drinking beverages with these nutrients can also have other benefits for consumers’ overall health and wellness. 

“Electrolytes are vital to good health -- they help the body to absorb water more effectively than plain water and replace essential minerals lost through sweat or illness,” Nosaka said. “People should consider drinking oral rehydration fluids instead of plain water during moderate to intense exercise, when it’s very hot, or when you are sick from diarrhea or vomiting.” 

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